France secured the win they needed to clinch Group D top spot with a game to spare, but Belgium pushed them all the way.
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France are into the UEFA Women's EURO 2022 quarter-finals as Group D winners, but were pushed all the way in an exciting match by Belgium, who will play for their competition future against Italy on Monday.
6' Diani heads France in front
17' Katoto off injured
36' Cayman equalises against run of play
41' Mbock Bathy restores France lead
89' Tysiak sent off for second booking
90' Evard saves resulting Renard penalty
Match in brief: France celebrate on 14 July
France knew at kick-off that victory would not only seal progress, but also top spot in Group D and the chance to stay here in Rotherham for the quarter-finals, and they started as full as beans as they had done when hitting five before the break on Sunday against Italy. Just six minutes in, a teasing Sakina Karchaoui cross was headed in at the far post by Kadidiatou Diani.
Les Bleues suffered a blow soon after when Marie-Antoinette Katoto was forced off due to injury but even before Ouleymata Sarr could replace her, Diani nearly had a second as her close-range poke was turned on to the post at point-blank range by Nicky Evrard. Moments later, Wendie Renard's shot was blocked by Laura De Neve.
Belgium somehow made it past the half-hour still only 1-0 down then out of the blue they equalised; Tessa Wullaert sliding the ball behind the France defence and Janice Cayman getting to it before her Lyon club-mate Renard and poking in. France responded within five minutes; Griedge Mbock Bathy, restored to the starting line-up to partner Renard, heading in a cross from the other player in the Bleues XI who did not begin against Italy, Clara Matéo.
France remained on top in the second half, Evrard reacting well to a sliced Sarr shot before De Neve denied Karchaoui with a timely sliding tackle shortly afterwards. With Belgium still believing in their own chances, they also posed a threat, but France continued with the fizzing football that has now twice lit up Rotherham.
They nearly had further reward in the last minute as Amber Tysiak handled in the box, receiving her second yellow card, but the always impressive Evrard denied Renard, who then put the rebound wide. Evard also stopped a late Renard header but France's progress is assured, though Belgium can take heart.
Visa Player of the Match: Delphine Cascarino (France)
"Created dangerous chances in one-on-one situations and crosses."
UEFA Technical Observer panel
Vanessa Tomaszewski, France reporter
Even though Les Bleues again started well this time, some inaccurate play allowed Belgium to equalise. But France reacted well and were soon dominating again. The second half had its worries but the job is done: France are through to the quarter-finals as group winners. It continues!
Alyssa Saliou, Belgium reporter
Everyone fear France would crush Belgium, and in the opening minutes it seemed so. But perhaps they started to underestimate Belgium because their play seemed nonchalant and Cayman levelled the scores. Although there is a difference in level between the teams, Belgium really made it difficult for France.
Goalkeeper Evrard also deserves a special mention. Her second penalty save of these finals! What a performance! It remained exciting until the final minutes. I did not think I would be able to write this after this match, but a draw would have been more than deserved. If Belgium plays like this against Italy in the next match, the quarter-finals are certainly achievable.
Corinne Diacre, France coach: "Belgium gave it their all at the end of the game, they wanted to equalise. We managed to stand our ground. They had a lot of chances and so did we, we weren't as clinical as against Italy but it's not every day you score five goals in the first half! We need to make the most of these joyful moments when they arise. It's rare to get through a group with a game to spare.
"Katoto has sprained her knee I think, that's all we know at the moment. It's the same knee that was injured before but a different injury."
Ives Serneels, Belgium coach: "We didn't start well but we did all we could to create chances. Everyone gave it their all and it is a pity the result doesn't reflect that and we haven't been rewarded for our efforts. The first goal we scored is a good example of the confidence we had. But we fell behind at two difficult moments. But then again, our players showed resilience. France were able to hold out which is what you expect from a high level team."
Delphine Cascarino, Visa Player of the Match: "I'm feeling good, trying to help the team as I can on the right. And give as much as I can. It's a weight off our shoulders [to be through] and an objective we wanted to hit. It's put us in a great position."
Griedge Mbock Bathy, France goalscorer: "It's a great satisfaction to have qualified after the second game. It was the objective to ensure qualification and that's what we did tonight. I felt good [returning to the starting line-up]. We have a group with a lot of qualities. We have players who can rotate, we have a group that can afford to rotate. That is also the strength of a group. The fact that I could play today is a great satisfaction and a great pride. To have been able to help the team is only happiness."
Nicky Evrard, Belgium goalkeeper: "I am very happy to have stopped that penalty although I want to add that we were also lucky the second attempt didn't go in. I'm very happy with my performance and that of the team. It's very unfortunate we didn't get a point tonight. I feel like we deserved it."
Tine De Caigny, Belgium forward: "I think we showed everyone who doubted us that we are a solid team. Everyone played a very good game. It's just super unfortunate that we don't get anything for it in return. We deserved at least a point here."
- Diani became the first player to score for a France senior side, female or male, on 14 July.
- France have now won all 15 matches in which Diani has scored.
- Cayman also scored at Rotherham's New York Stadium for Belgium in a 1-1 Women's EURO qualifying draw against England in 2016.
- The crowd of 8,173 officially lifted the aggregate attendance for the finals to 248,075, beating the record from 2017 already, at just the halfway point of England 2022.
France: Peyraud-Magnin; Périsset, Renard, Mbock Bathy, Karchaoui; Geyoro (Palis 90+1), Bilbault, Mateo (Toletti 65); Diani (Bacha 65), Katoto (Sarr 17), Cascarino (Malard 90+1)
Belgium: Evrard; Vangheluwe (Minnaert 46), Kees, De Neve (Tysiak 70), Philtjens (Deloose 58); Vanhaevermaet (Delacauw 59), De Caigny, Biesmans; Dhont (Eurlings 78), Wullaert, Cayman
France stay in Rotherham to face Iceland on Monday, and will remain here for their quarter-final against the Group C runners-up on 23 July. Belgium will aim to join France in the last eight when they take on Italy in Manchester to conclude Group D.